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Rail Safety Week: Spreading the message

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A booklet entitled ‘The Safety Movement’ was handed out to Great Western Railway employees in 1913 to try to encourage its workforce to adopt safer working practices. It came too late for the 30,000 rail workers who were either killed or injured in that year alone.

This chapter from the rail safety history books was one of several case studies unearthed by RSSB for its Rail Safety Week communications activities. Another explained the first rudimentary method of railway signalling, which involved a policeman flagging off trains from the station platform every few minutes. This system was eventually refined, adding a second policeman at the next station to signal that the first train had departed and the line was clear – the earliest example of a fixed-block signalling system.

They highlight how much – and in some cases how little – things have changed over the centuries and decades. Rail Safety Week returned for its second year between 25 September and 1 October, coinciding by chance with the USA’s annual Rail Safety Week campaign. The event, which this year was backed by more than 120 companies, is an opportunity for businesses to promote good safety practices within the industry as well as to passengers and the general public.

‘It’s promoting rail safety but it’s also celebrating what people do well,’ said Rail Safety Week organiser Alan Tarrant. The week-long awareness event was launched at Liverpool Lime Street – a station which is about to undergo a significant remodelling programme. The underlying message has emanated around the country, with school visits, stand-down days and site briefs held in support across the network.


Alan, a director at Fission Recruitment Services, said the aim of the event was to try and get everybody involved to pass on at least one safety message to their family, friends and colleagues.

Numerous topics were covered throughout the week, including level crossing risk, trespassing and mental health. The safety message was aimed not just at those who work in the industry but to anyone who lives or works near the railway. ‘We want you involved,’ said Alan.

Recruiter Randstad published a report having surveyed more than 3,000 construction workers to highlight how widespread mental health issues are across the workforce. In the report, it indicated that 34 per cent of respondents had experienced a mental health condition in the last 12 months and that 73 per cent didn’t feel that their employers recognised the early signs of mental health problems.


Much of the activity around Rail Safety Week was aimed squarely at the public. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and operator KeolisAmey Metrolink took a tram simulator to Manchester Piccadilly to give the public the chance to experience what it’s like to be a driver and better understand how their actions can sometimes make the driver’s job more difficult.

The dangers of trespassing on the railway were also restated. Last year, BTP caught 555 children trespassing on lines around the country. The ScotRail Alliance’s Rail Safety Week event focussed on this risk and the partnership held interactive workshops to demonstrate the consequences of misuse.


According to the ORR, there was one workforce fatality in 2016/17 – compared to zero in the previous year – and a slight increase in workforce injuries (6,713). Some of those were life changing for the victims.

Staff injuries were down on the London Underground. However, there was a rise in the number of workforce injuries on Britain’s other tram and metro networks. There were 308 workforce injuries in 2016-17 compared to 247 the year before and 68 in 2008-09.

Alan said it was important to get the message across to everyone – even the most experienced staff members. ‘It’s sometimes those type of people that are their own worst enemy… It’s highlighting it to them as well… It’s still an extremely dangerous place to work.’

One of RSSB’s other safety case studies looked at the rise of human factors and the way this area has affected how equipment is designed and how people are trained.

VolkerRail and Amey are working with the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University to analyse and attempt to influence the behaviours of their employees in the hope it will reduce accident risk. Announcing the partnership, Stuart Webster-Spriggs, HSQE director for VolkerRail, said it is allowing the company to ‘react to what really drives [the workforce] to make further improvements’.


Within a lot of organisations Rail Safety Week was an opportunity to further embed and reaffirm good safety practice. AECOM, for example, encouraged everyone in its rail offices to get on social media and spread the Rail Safety Week message.

The activities around Rail Safety Week clearly demonstrate progress. We have gone from an industry that sought to address the deaths of tens of thousands of colleagues by printing a booklet to an industry that, although not perfect, constantly strives to do the right thing.

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